It's difficult to survey the hip-hop of 2004, more bloated and self-referential than ever, and not imagine the mythical AOR wasteland of the mid-'70s. Like rock before it, hip-hop has easily won a cultural acceptance once unthinkable, and our reward is a parade of Jadakisses and G-Unit solo projects, preaching empty and ultimately safe rebellion in the same way Boston and Foreigner once spoke to beer-drinking longhairs in high school parking lots. That being the case, it was hard to hear Brits like the Streets and Dizzee Rascal and not imagine a hip-hop equivalent to the punk revolution of two and a half decades ago. Today's industry is too fragmented to be satisfyingly overthrown the way the Clash stomped REO Speedwagon, though, and just as Boston and Foreigner made some great records that will outlive every mullet revival in the future, one simply can't write off hip-hop's mainstream. Still, it's no coincidence that most of the best hip-hop of 2004 came from outside it -- and the very best came from... More >>>